Amid calls from public health experts to swap cloth face coverings for higher-quality masks as COVID-19 cases increase, the CDC updated its mask information Friday to acknowledge that some types of masks offer more protection than others.
The agency also recognized that some types of masks may be more difficult to wear consistently than others, and that it is important to choose a comfortable mask that offers good protection. It also removed concerns about supply shortages.
“Concealment is an important public health tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask,” the CDC said in a statement. “To protect yourself and others from COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend that you wear the most well-fitting protective mask you can and that you will wear consistently.”
Loosely woven cloth masks offer less protection than well-disposable surgical masks. And KN95s provide more protection, according to CDC guidelines.
The guideline also states that “NIOSH approved respirators (including N95s) provide the highest level of protection.” These face coverings are even more important in high-risk situations such as when caring for someone with COVID, boarding a plane, or using public transportation.
The updated guidelines come as many experts are calling for increased mask protection amid mounting evidence that common cloth masks are not sufficiently protective against the latest virus.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America expressed support for the update in a statement Friday, noting that the high transmissibility of the omicron variant makes correct mask wearing even more important.
The organization said N95 surgical respirators, which the CDC said offer the highest level of protection, should be intended for use in healthcare settings, but others should consider non-surgical N95 or KN95 masks.
IDSA has also acknowledged that although these masks are becoming more readily available, they are more expensive.
“This cost barrier could exacerbate already large health inequalities,” the association said.
Also in the news:
► As some experts say, the current wave of COVID-19 may have reached its climax, cases of novel coronavirus have fallen slightly for the second time this week. The United States reported about 5.51 million cases in the week ending Thursday, down from a revised 5.53 million cases in the week ending Wednesday, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
►Nearly one in five hospitals reported a “severe staff shortage” in data released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a USA TODAY analysis. One in four expect serious shortages within the next week.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office on Friday apologized to the royal family for holding a late-night staff party the day before Queen Elizabeth II sat alone and mourned the late Prince Philip at a socially distancing funeral due to the country’s COVID-19 rules.
The New York eviction moratorium, which has protected hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are behind on their payments due to hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, ends on Saturday.
The Israeli Ministry of Health said Friday that more than half a million people in Israel have received a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
► Cruise lines will not be obligated to follow COVID-19 guidelines on ships because the CDC’s framework for a conditional sailing order, which was extended and modified in October, will expire on Saturday.
📈Today’s numbers: The United States has recorded more than 63.9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 846,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: more than 319 million cases and nearly 5.5 million deaths. More than 208 million Americans — 62.8% — have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘What we read: When will the COVID wave end? Scientists are looking in wastewater for clues.
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More school districts are switching to distance learning
With COVID-19 cases rising among teachers, school officials in Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Nevada announced this week that they will close or move to distance learning amid a worsening teacher shortage.
In Indiana, at least four school districts in Marion County have switched to distance learning. Indianapolis Public Schools said Wednesday that the decision was “made based on the number of employee absences, including COVID-19 isolation and quarantine at the middle school and high school levels.”
North Carolina has resorted to allowing state employees to use their allotted volunteer days to fill in for paid teachers, Governor Roy Cooper announced Wednesday. In Nevada, all schools in the Carson City School District have closed for part of this week due to the increased number of employees who have contracted COVID-19.
Maryland’s largest school district has asked the National Guard to fill in bus drivers, ABC News reported. New Mexico’s governor said Thursday that she is considering seeking help from the National Guard to address staffing shortages in the state’s public schools as well.
Study finds US insurers paid an estimated $100 million for uncertain treatment of COVID-19 with ivermectin
A new study says US insurers paid the equivalent of $129 million annually for the deworming drug ivermectin, even though the drug was not found to benefit Covid-19 patients.
Ivermectin is used to treat heartworms and ear mites in cats and dogs and to control parasites in horses, cattle, pigs, and sheep. In rare cases, it is given to humans with an infestation of helminths.
It has been promoted as a treatment for COVID-19 but there is little data to suggest it is effective.
The few researchers diagnosed with a parasitic infection excluded about 6% of prescriptions.
It was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School and Boston University, and was published Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The Food and Drug Administration specifically says that ivermectin should not be taken to treat COVID-19 and cites side effects such as rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, swelling of the face or extremities, seizures, confusion, and liver injury.
Despite this, millions of prescriptions for the drug have been written for COVID-19 patients.
The study found that the insurance company’s reimbursement for the drug was an average of $35.75 for private insurance and $39.13 for Medicare Advantage patients.
– Elizabeth Wise
Biden administration launches website for free test kits
On Wednesday, the Biden administration will launch a website where Americans can order up to four free COVID-19 test kits per person, according to a senior administration official.
The tests, part of the Biden administration’s purchase of 500 million tests last month to help tackle the record spike in infections, will be available on COVIDTest.gov and mailed to homes within 7-12 days, according to the official, who briefed reporters. On condition of anonymity in order to discuss the details of the advertisement.
President Joe Biden announced earlier this week that the administration would double its order to purchase an additional 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests amid a nationwide testing shortage that has led to long queues at testing sites and overburdened hospitals. Officials said the second batch of test kits will be distributed free of charge through the federal website.
– Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY
Students go out in search of COVID safety, calling schools a ‘petri dish’
As teacher unions and schools grapple over in-person and distance learning, students across the country are demanding a seat at the table. Many are organizing strikes this week, including Boston on Friday.
“We’re who we’ve been in this environment every single day. It’s our bodies that we put at risk,” said Kayla Quinlan, a 16-year-old student activist at Boston Day and Evening Academy. “Students should have a say in what their learning environment looks like, but our voices are always left out.”
The Boston Globe and NBC Boston confirmed that students in schools across the Boston Public School system turned out around 10:30 a.m. Friday.
While specific requirements vary across regions, student requests are largely centered around allowing distance learning options as an alternative for those concerned about coming to school, rather than closing classes completely. Student coalitions that have called for a full switch to remote control have called for it to do so only temporarily if schools do not enforce stricter COVID-19 precautions, including more frequent testing and higher-quality masks.
“It feels like a breeding ground for COVID, like a COVID petri dish,” Quinlan added. “How are you supposed to feel safe?”
Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government revoked his visa for the second time
Tennis star Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government revoked his visa for the second time.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawk said Friday he used his ministerial discretion to revoke the visa of the 34-year-old Serb on public interest grounds three days before the Australian Open kicks off. Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to appeal the annulment in the Federal Circuit and Family Court as they successfully did after the first annulment.
Djokovic arrived in Melbourne last week to defend his Australian Open title. His exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for the competition has been approved by the state government of Victoria and Tennis Australia, the tournament organiser. Apparently this allowed him to get a visa to travel.
But the Australian Border Force refused the exemption and canceled his visa upon arrival in Melbourne. Djokovic spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel before a judge on Monday overturned that decision.
– Associated Press
COVID Control Center to ‘Pause’ Test Sites Nationwide
A coronavirus testing company under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice that drew criticism from customers in several states on Thursday announced a “one-week pause on all operations.”
The suspension was expected to take effect from Friday to January 21 at all COVID Control testing sites. The Illinois-based company’s website says it has more than 300 locations in the United States across several states. Two of those, Massachusetts and Washington, took action this week to close several of the company’s testing centers in their communities.
In an internal company memo addressed to “all site owners and administrators” and obtained by USA TODAY, the COVID Control Center noted “increased media scrutiny of our collection site operations” over the past week. The company says it processes 80,000 test requests per day.
“This, along with various customer complaints, has resulted in various state health departments and even the Department of Justice taking a keen interest in our company,” the notice read.
– Grace Hook, USA TODAY
Supreme Court blocks authorization of COVID-19 vaccine or testing for workplaces
The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked one of President Joe Biden’s signature efforts to combat COVID-19, ruling that his administration does not have the authority to impose vaccine or testing requirements on employers that would have covered tens of millions of Americans.
The unsigned opinion, which came days after judges heard arguments on an emergency appeal, was the second time the nation’s highest court has ridden the Biden administration’s pandemic policy, concluding once again that federal officials have overstepped the authority conferred on them by Congress. The court blocked the eviction order that Biden had imposed in August, ruling that it was also an overreach.
The disagreement in the workplace issue was whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had the power to enforce the requirements under the 1970 law.
It was not immediately clear what options, if any, the Biden administration would have to respond to. In a statement, the president said he was “disappointed,” and “it is now up to states and individual employers to determine whether their workplaces should be made as safe as possible for employees.” Read more here about what could be next for Biden’s vaccine campaign.
– John Fritz, USA TODAY
Contributing: Selina Tibor, USA Today; Associated Press